By: Mike Ginsca,
Fuel prices are continuing to climb and probably will do so for the foreseeable future. Thus it is probably a good time for Honda to introduce their latest plug-in hybrid sedan. The Honda Clarity initially started life as a hydrogen fuel celled vehicle but in order to reach more of the market, Honda made it run on a more “conventional” type of fuel.
Engine – The gasoline engine in the Clarity is a 1.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that produces 103hp. It’s hard to say how the engine feels to drive because the Clarity cannot drive just on the gas engine alone. The electric motors will always assist. However with the electric motors, the car has an overall output of 212hp and it feels like…. well, any other economy car to drive. The only time this car feels like a plug-in hybrid is when you switch it to be full EV mode. In this mode accelerating is a tiny bit slower than in a normal gasoline only Civic (for example) but you are not using any fuel. In the week that I had this vehicle, I found myself just leaving the Honda Clarity in EV mode for majority of the time as Hybrid mode was not necessary for my commute. Because of this, over an almost 200 km total drive, I managed to achieve a fuel economy rating of just 0.8L/100km. Charging the 17 kWh batteries takes approximately 2.5 hours from a 240V charging station or up to 12 hours from a 120V outlet. Honda are claiming up to 76 all electric range but after each charge, I only saw approximately 62 km of full electric range on the trip computer.
Transmission – This topic is pointless because the Honda Clarity doesn’t actually have a traditional transmission. I’m not an engineer but as far as I can tell, there is an electric motor/generator mounted to the engine which uses the power from the gas engine to produce the required power output to get the car moving. In short, you don’t feel any shifts and is smooth.
Braking – When initially applying the brakes, the Clarity uses the momentum of the car to recharge the batteries. Pull on the left steering wheel paddle and the Clarity applies more regenerative braking to slow you down. But you don’t need to constantly think about doing this because applying the brakes does the exact same thing. Apply the brakes a bit harder, and the normal disc brakes do the rest of the braking. Like many other vehicles with regenerative braking, the brakes feel very artificial and at times “mushy” when braking under hard deceleration.
Handling – The Honda Clarity was designed first and foremost to save gas. Thus the Clarity is not a driver’s car so don’t expect it to be a fun drive through twisty mountain roads. The steering is precise but it offers no feedback. It doesn’t flop from side to side around corners but there is enough body roll to let you know that you’re not in a sports sedan. It feels like a normal economy car and that’s a good thing because it doesn’t feel like a sub-par electric or hybrid car.
Ride Comfort – For the most part the Clarity is a comfortable sedan. The suspension soaks up bumps well however bigger pot holes or road bumps can feel a bit exaggerated because of the car’s hefty weight from the batteries. The front seats are on the comfortable side but neither driver nor passenger get power adjusted seats, just manual. Rear occupants have a good amount of leg and head room and behind them is actually a very spacious trunk for a hybrid vehicle.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When the Clarity is in EV mode, it is silent as one would expect. On a highway however more wind noise can be heard coming from around the exterior mirrors but it’s not unbearable. When in Hybrid mode with the engine running, it is a loud and unbearable drone. Apart from the noise, the Honda feels well put together and does not suffer from any squeaks or rattles.
Interior Design – Materials like wood and suede are not uncommon but very rarely do they go together. Yet Honda somehow managed to make it work on the dashboard and door panels of the Clarity. I also like the floating center console with the shift selector buttons on top of it. The design and the quietness of the Clarity, when in EV mode, makes it feel very relaxing in most driving situations.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – First thing’s first, there’s no volume knob. The Clarity uses the same infotainment system found in the Honda Civic but it really needs that volume knob. Also for a car that has a starting price of about $40,000 CAD and is so technologically advanced, it does not have blind spot monitor or a 360 degree camera system. I know these are not cheap items but what’s another $1,500 on top of $40,000?
Exterior Design – The Honda Clarity was designed with efficiency in mind hence why it looks like the way it does. The front is similar to other Honda vehicles but there back it was styled in the name of aerodynamic efficiency. The half cover of the wheels, the raised trunk, and the little slots in front of the rear wheels were all designed to reduce air turbulence thus improving fuel efficiency. You be the judge of how it looks but I personally don’t like the looks.
If you can get past the exterior looks, the lack of common amenities such as power seats or a volume knob and if you have $40,000 CAD lying around, then the 2018 Honda Clarity will reward you with a quiet and nearly gasoline free drive.
Thank you to Honda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Honda.ca
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.